Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. These are the 5 stages that dying and grieving people go through. They were first identified in the 1969 book, On Death and Dying authored by Elisabeth Kübler Ross.
I first read this book when I was about 14 years old. I was not an avid reader at the time, but I saw it on a bookshelf one day and felt a strong call to read it, without anyone telling me to or making me … very unusual.
It was so interesting that I remember reading it in one sitting. I found it fascinating and could see its application to situations other than dying. Turns out that what I learned through it has been extremely useful throughout my life. Most of what I have done has involved leading or participating in some type of change. Guess what stages people go through during any change? Yep, the same ones.
And guess what stages we are all going through right now? In fact, do a quick reality check on yourself. Which stage are you in primarily going through currently? Of course currently I’m referring to the COVID-19 situation. But if you happen to be reading this years from now there is likely some other event or condition you are dealing with. Death, grief, and change are omnipresent.
Understanding these stages helps me to remember that what I am going through during tough times is both normal and necessary. Normal because everyone goes through them in some way, and necessary in order to eventually be able to move forward. Without experiencing the stages in some form, we risk getting stuck, maybe for a very long time.
In doing a little research about the stages to make sure I was providing you good information, I discovered that there are two follow-up books to the original: On Grief and Grieving and Finding Meaning. The first was co-authored with David Kessler, and the second by him alone. I haven’t read either, but thought I’d make you aware in case you’re interested.
In case you are unfamiliar with the stages, let’s review them briefly. Then we will move on to what I think is the most important stage to our ongoing happiness, the sixth one that was added in the last book, Meaning. Here goes.
Oh, but first it is important to note that you won’t necessarily go through theses stages in order, I find them to be random and reoccurring. And annoying in that you might think you are finally done with one, only to see it come back out of nowhere to bite you again later. Remember, normal and necessary.
Last preparatory point, these are my personal interpretations of the stages drawn from my experience. I encourage you to read the book yourself if you want further details.
Denial – This can’t and shouldn’t be happening. I refuse to acknowledge its existence. I’ll cover my ears and shut my eyes. Maybe it will go away. Avoidance is my friend.
Anger – Okay fine, this is really happening. But I don’t like it! I know that patience is the virtue to be used in times like these, but I have no patience for that. It’s okay to be angry at a situation and express your frustration. Just don’t break anything or hurt anyone, like yourself.
Bargaining – Hey God, if you fix this I promise to be a better person. I wonder about what could I have done differently to have avoided this situation in the first place? Too late, it doesn’t matter, quit thinking about it or you’ll drive yourself crazy.
Depression – This is awful. How am I going to get through this? Can I? How long will it take? What will life be like afterwards? Is it even worth it? Yes, it is! Start with gratitude for all the good in your life.
Acceptance – I still don’t like it, but I acknowledge that it is what it is. I’ll do what I can to adapt to the new normal. It will take time, but I know I can do it.
Do you recognize yourself in any of these stages currently? Can you see that you have moved successfully through a couple of them already? Have you gone through a few of them more than once?
Just for fun I wrote the stages on a sheet of paper in a circular fashion. I thought about my journey over the last couple of weeks and drew lines between them in the order I recalled experiencing them. In the end it looked like a pentagram, you know, a circle with a star in the middle. Interesting. Try it.
Personally, I’m tired of bouncing around them and hereby choose to escape and move to Finding Meaning.
Have you ever made a mess, like having a party when your parents were gone and not getting it cleaned up before they got home? Of course not. But if you had, what would they have said? Something along the lines of, “What is the meaning of this?!!! Clean this up, think about what you’ve done, and we’ll talk about it later!”
If in the very unlikely case that this ever happened to you, what would you have been thinking as you cleaned up? Excuses? No, they never work. Reasons? There are no good ones. Explanations? Nope.
How about simply saying you’re sorry and it won’t ever happen again? Good start. Probably better tell them what you have learned and what you will do differently going forward to ensure it never happens again. Yes, great idea, hopefully that will lessen the punishment.
What does this have to do with our current situation? Well I could be wrong, but I believe we all have at least a little mess in our lives. Something that isn’t quite right. Something that we could clean up. And there is probably some meaning in our mess.
I choose to believe the meaning of this virtual shutdown of our normal life is to give us a little time to clean up. To remind us of our mortality. To cause us to slow down and recharge. To reflect, reassess, and refresh. To determine what is important going forward. To redefine our priorities and adjust our routines.
Think of it this way. My phone had been slowing down and quickly draining its battery recently, it was a mess. To fix it I removed a bunch of apps, updated the software, turned it off, gave it a rest, and restarted it. Problem solved. We can go through a similar process to fix any messes we might have in our lives right now.
Actually, times like these often lead to complete life transformations. We suddenly realize through a tragedy or near death experience that there is more to life. We are determined to make the most of our remaining time. We live life with a new attitude of gratitude and appreciation. We live a life of meaning, purpose, and happiness. Maybe this is that time for us.
I know we are all looking forward to life getting back to normal, but should we be? How about instead we define a new normal for ourselves before that happens. Take some time to ask and answer these questions for yourself this week:
I challenged my playground heaven living Facebook friends to learn a new skill this week. I’m learning to spin a basketball on my finger. I’ll prove success soon through my first ever short video. Back to practice.
Stay Safe and Well My Friends! Scott
Interesting piece Scott. We all need to be reminded to take a deep breath and focus on what we can control. Unfortunately we think we have turned the corner and then something happens to make us backslide.
Keep up the good work!
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Thanks Ellen:-) Keep the Faith! Oops, forgot you see the exclamation point as yelling at you:-) Nah, on the contrary, I’m cheering us all on!!! Be well my friend.
Great and timely article. I deal constantly with people who are “stuck” because they don’t process through the stages. Experience shows me it is not about what happens to us in life, but about how we process or respond to it. Many people are unaware, or afraid, or simply don’t want to do the work it takes to go through the various stages. If anybody wants a safe place to process through some of those things from their past so they can become “unstuck” and move forward into all that God has for them, I would encourage them to check out theultimatejourney.org.
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Thanks for all you continue to do to bring people to the faith, Jim! I’ll be sure to check out theultimatejourney.org myself. Be well and save my friend.